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Changing Back Again 

Same nonsense, different decade.

click to enlarge Robert Herold
  • Robert Herold

Election 2010 wasn’t so much a “shellacking” (the President’s term) as a reflection of the despair weighing down Americans who have lost their homes, have no job and lack a retirement. (Those who have an IRA, it’s worth mentioning, are doing quite well in the market thanks to actions taken by Henry Paulson, President Obama, Tim Geithner, the Federal Reserve and Democrats in Congress; your incoming Republicans were zero help.)

The simple facts are these: In 2010, Republicans voted and Democrats didn’t. The total vote was down almost 40 percent from 2008, and the drop-off was far greater among Democrats. Hedrik Hertzberg reports in the New Yorker that this year’s voters were whiter, markedly older and more habitually Republican. Indeed, had the electorate in 2008 mirrored those who voted in 2010, John Mc- Cain would be president today.

Why this voting pattern, this seemingly illogical outcome? Hertzberg lays out the voter illogic:

“Frightened by joblessness, ‘the American people’ rewarded the party that not only opposed the stimulus but also blocked the extension of unemployment benefits. Alarmed by ballooning national debt, they rewarded the party that not only transformed budget surpluses into budget deficits but also proposes to inflate the debt by hundreds of billions with a permanent tax cut for the least needy two percent. Frustrated by what they see as inaction, they rewarded the party that not only fought every effort to mitigate the crisis but also forced the watering down of whatever it couldn’t block.”

Over the past two years we have experienced what James Madison, in Federalist Papers Nos. 10 and 51, argued would be avoided by our new Constitution, which provided for a federal republic with executive, legislative and judicial powers separated. Madison sought governance through deliberation and compromise, which he viewed necessary to control “the violence of faction” defined as “a majority of minority of the whole, united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” Yet for two years now, government has been often held at bay if not outright hostage by the minority Republican faction, which has become the majority.

Yet now, while I suppose hope springs eternal, the incoming House leadership gives every indication that past will be prologue. Anti-intellectualism once again, writ large. Enter our soon-to-be speaker, John Boehner, who, when asked about his views on climate change and global warming, actually said: “The idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to the environment is almost comical.”

Almost comical? The National Academy of Sciences is “almost comical?” The association with a membership that includes over 200 Nobel Prize winners? And the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, which has just reported that last year was the hottest ever around the planet — it, too, is “almost comical?” A growing number of leading Chinese scientists, who are now calling attention to the growing threat, they too are ”almost comical?” Déja vu all over again. This is the same John Boehner who shilled for big tobacco for years. No doubt he has more than once exclaimed that saying that smoking causes lung cancer is almost comical.

Alas, Mr. Boehner isn’t alone in his disregard for thought. Consider three others, starting with Darrell Issa, of California, your next chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Issa has already announced his intention to “expose all the fraudulent science that informs the global warming debate.” Note: He doesn’t say, “study further,” nor “become better informed” — no, despite a scientific background that couldn’t fill a thimble (he made a fortune selling auto security systems), he predetermines his preferred answers to rather complicated scientific questions.

Issa reminds us of the last time this bunch was in charge — all the time and energy getting to the bottom of those really heady national concerns such as “travelgate,” and “who killed Vince Foster?” and the granddaddy of all wastes of time wrapped in political grandstanding, “Whitewater.”

Oh yes, Congressman Issa has assured corporate America that they need have no fear of him.

And isn’t that special?

Then there is John Shimkus of Illinois. In case you missed his act, during a hearing he actually quoted from Genesis 8:22 by way of “disproving” climate change. Following right along behind Shimkus is Joe Barton, who has a recommendation for us all: If there really is climate change, which he doubts, people should just learn to adapt. Find some shade. Barton, you may recall, is the member of Congress who criticized President Obama for wringing promises of financial remuneration out of BP. He charged Obama with engaging in what amounted to shakedown.

So the early signs are that Republicans, now a majority faction, intend to continue doing what they have been doing for almost two years — vote “no” on all initiatives (except those that lower taxes on the wealthiest, reduce regulations regardless of need, assault women’s reproductive rights, wage phony war on health reform, deny even the need for energy and environmental action, and meddle around in foreign affairs resulting in more, not less, defense spending, all while threatening international stability).

Watching all this from “across the pond,” the usually reserved Economist questions whether Madison’s form of government is any longer up to the task. To come more directly to their point, I paraphrase John McEnroe’s most famous rant: “You Americans cannot be serious!”

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